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First Look 2008: Libertarian Party Presidential Candidate George Phillies

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[Note: This article is one in a series on prospective candidates for the Libertarian Party’s 2008 presidential nomination.]

I’m a fan and friend of George Phillies. I’ve been working with him in various capacities on various projects for six years now. Still, I was surprised when he declared his candidacy for the Libertarian Party’s 2008 presidential nomination, and I’m frankly skeptical of his ability to garner that nomination.

Let’s start out with his positives:

  • He’s declared early and actually begun the work of putting together a campaign. These two things have to go together to be significant. Lots of people declare early and never do anything between declaring and showing up at the convention to collect their five or ten delegate votes. Phillies has already rolled out a video commercial on his still-under-construction website. And he’s given himself two years to develop a public profile outside the party.
  • He’s a long-time LP activist with a small, but hardcore, national base of support in the party (in three runs for the chairmanship of the Libertarian National Committee, two of them decided by delegates who also chose a presidential nominee, he’s polled between 15% and 23%).
  • He’s the author of two books which bear on LP politics. Stand Up For Liberty! is his manifesto on party organization for political victory. Funding Liberty is an in-depth analysis of the conduct of the LP’s 1996 and 2000 presidential campaigns. He also publishes an internal, unofficial LP periodical, Let Freedom Ring!/Libertarian Strategy Gazette.
  • He’s played key roles in several major LP campaigns. This has gained him contact with, and admiration from, LP campaign veterans whose support and work will be valuable to him in seeking the nomination.
  • His political activities already extend outside the LP. For example, he chairs his county’s ACLU affiliate. He’s not yet a major national political figure by any stretch of the imagination, but in a party that tends toward an extreme inward focus, any outside affiliations are both refreshing and promising.
  • While non-political academic credentials (he’s a physics professor with a doctorate from MIT) are a thin rope to climb toward the presidency, he can claim to have administrative experience on numerous faculty committees and such as a professor at Worcester Polytechnic.

Now, to the negatives:

While he has a hardcore base of national support within the LP, he also has a hardcore “anti-base” which, in my opinion, is roughly correspondent to his level of support. Taking his chairmanship vote numbers as a guide and giving him the benefit of all doubt, let’s do a little hypothetical math:

Assuming 1,000 delegates, 230 in firm, unwavering support of Phillies (that’s 23%, his best vote total for chair, so it’s a high assumption), and 15% in unwavering opposition to Phillies (that’s 15%, his worst vote total for chair), he’s 271 votes short of the majority required to capture the nomination. There are 620 delegate votes still “out there.” Phillies is going to have to capture more than 4 out of every 10 of those votes.

And, of course, there will be other candidates with their own committed bases of support. Even assuming only one other viable candidate with a similar, equally committed base of support (23%) and 50% overlap of that base with the “Anyone but Phillies” vote, a net of 165 more votes are already out of play, which means that Phillies is now trying to get 271 votes from a pool of 455 — or right at 6 of 10 “available” votes.

I just don’t see it happening. While I admire George Phillies, have supported him for chair in the past (and will likely continue to do so), and substantially agree with him on the direction the party should take, I also recognize that he’s a polarizing figure in the LP. Those who love him, love him. Those who hate him, hate him. Those who don’t love him or hate him don’t care about him at all and aren’t likely to start caring about him enough to support him in a contested presidential nomination vote.

Now that I’ve said I don’t see it happening, I’ll describe how it could happen:

  • Phillies could build genuine, non-LP, positive, national name recognition for himself. That name recognition would filter into the LP in the form of new members who enter the party predisposed to support him, many of whom might serve as delegates to the 2008 national convention, and in the form of current members who move from the “don’t care about Phillies” or even the “don’t like Phillies” column to the “Phillies for President” column.
  • Alternatively, Phillies could run an extremely aggressive internal party campaign to mobilize his supporters and get them, as opposed to his opponents, onto convention delegations, skewing those delegations more in his favor.

This is a tossup. Phillies’ view of how the party should operate tends toward the first strategy. His demonstrated abilities tend toward the second. Of course, there’s no reason that both strategies can’t be pursued, but it’s also true that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, and that either strategy will require the expenditure of lots of time, money, and effort, which may or may not be available to him.

Phillies’ candidacy is a fragile thing: The entrance into the race of a more nationally visible candidate would cut further into the pool of available delegate votes, and would probably even erode his “base.” It seems to me that the success, or even continuation, of his campaign is predicated on the notion that the LP will continue to choose from among “party insiders” rather than finding a bona fide national figure to carry its banner.

It may even be that his campaign is intended to “raise the bar” — to force “insider” campaigns to a higher standard of performance on the premise that we’re not going to have the option of a nominating a nationally prominent candidate and therefore need to squeeze more utility out of the “insider” menu. If so, he’s already made a substantial contribution by unveiling an Internet video “commercial” — presumably intended for television production and airing when the money’s there — two years in advance. For the sake of comparison, in 2004, only two of the three “front-runners” had commercials “in the can” by the time of the nominating convention, and only one was actually airing them.

I’ll continue to watch the Phillies campaign with interest. There may be surprises in store.

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About Thomas L. Knapp

  • http://knappster.blogspot.com Thomas L. Knapp

    Addendum: I am told that the third contender in 2004, Gary Nolan, also had a produced commercial, although it had not aired on television yet.

    Regards,
    Tom Knapp

  • KenH

    I understand that Mr. Phillies has enlisted the support of Karen Kwiatkowski to run a separate campaign to be the LP vice presidential candidate.

    Phillies/Kwiatkowski – that is a ticket I could support in 2008.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    OMG the King of the Gaming Nerds™ is running for president. God help us.

    Back when I was in the game publishing industry I have to admit some appreciation for his obsession with purchasing one copy of every board and roleplaying game product on the market.

    Dave

  • http://morrisonhimself.blogspot.com Michael Morrison

    Though I have a very high regard for George Phillies, I think a viable Libertarian Party candidate will have to be picked from a field of known, if not famous, people.
    Perhaps George, and others, ought to make serious races for other offices first.
    We need, desperately, some Libertarian members of Congress, some Libertarian members of the various state legislatures, some Libertarian members of county and state governments.
    We need, desperately, some Libertarian governors and mayors.
    THEN, and probably only then, can we reasonably expect to make a serious, even if not immediately victorious, race for the presidency.
    I fear it is just self-defeating for our Libertarians, even the great ones such as George Phillies and/or Gary Nolan, to spend so much time and energy and money seeking a presidential nomination, which generally avails neither the Party nor the nation — thanks very much to the short-sighted and ignorant and/or biased “news” media — anything good.
    If, though, we made serious congressional and legislative races, spending that time and energy and money there, we could begin to have an impact on both our own credibility and philosophical orientation of the body politic.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    Good thought, Michael, but what you’re forgetting is that for the party to be taken seriously it needs to run someone for president even if he has no chance of winning. He becomes the voice of the party and it’s a way to promote the views of the party, get media exposure and raise that person’s name recognition.

    Being the LP presidential candidate isn’t so much a serious run at the presidency as it is a PR position for the entire party. And in a weird twist of circumstances it’s also a good way to launch a campaign for lower office in a subsequent election, as Michael Badnarik has done.

    A bigger problem for Libertarians is the party’s unwillingness as a group to embrace even the smallest measure of political pragmatism. There are already over 100 libertarians holding office right now – from state legislators on up – more than a dozen of them in Congress, but they all ran as Republicans because the GOP isn’t actively hostile to them and under that big tent they can actually get elected.

    Dave

  • http://www.phillies2008.org George Phillies

    Now with two concept videos on the web site.

    A concept video is not an advertisement. It is halfway from the storyboard and script to the final ad, in that you can hear an approximate message not by a professional voice, see images that roughly match the intended final, and perhaps hear what the music might be.

    With respect to Dave Nalle’s suggestion that I bought one of every rolegaming product on the market, well, that’s a tale that has gotten better with the telling. But you can find the people who did buy all that on the real estate pages. The ad “Wanted. Modest House. Attached airship hangar mandatory!” is a real giveaway.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    Hey George, good to see you on here, and good luck with the campaign.

    And BTW, my house has 7 garages, and I think you know why.

    Dave

  • http://www.myspace.com/berg125 Hyrum Berg

    Why is the Libertarian Party not supporting Ron Paul? Him becoming President would be just like having a Libertarian President. And he has a better chance of becoming President that one running as a Libertarian.

  • Dr Dreadful

    #8: Because the Libertarian Party is, as discussed, a viable political party, and one of the things political parties tend to like to do is field candidates in elections – as is their democratic right.

    Hailing as I do from a country with three major political parties and literally hundreds of regional and minor ones, many of which do have representation in Parliament, I think that the two-party system you have here is a bit unhealthy. While I appreciate that both the Republicans and the Democratics are structured to allow for a broad church of opinion under the general party umbrella – hence the apparently contradictory talk of ‘conservative Democrats’ and ‘liberal Republicans’ – these fine distinctions aren’t always apparent to Joe Voter, who perceives himself faced at the ballot box with a stark choice between Existing Disaster and New Disaster.

    When a strong third-party presidential candidate does emerge – e.g. Ross Perot in 1992 and Ralph Nader in 2000 – he/she is promptly rounded upon by angry supporters of the two main parties who blame him/her for stealing their voters and losing them the election: as if their very presence on the ballot paper were somehow unfair.

    Small wonder there is such public cynicism for the democratic process. All the more reason why third party candidates need to be encouraged: they mean fewer votes for the ‘Big Two’ to take for granted, making them work harder and encouraging more debate of the actual issues, rather than the two-way mudslinging that tends to occur.

    All power to the Libertarians, the Greens, the Reform Party and anyone else who cares to throw a spanner in the works, I say.

  • http://www.myspace.com/berg125 Hyrum Berg

    I agree that the two party system is a poor contraption that I believe is cheating us out of representative choices. But Ron Paul as you probably recall ran as the Libertarian Party’s candidate. His platform has not changed so he is what the Libertarians want. So why not support a perfect Libertarian candidate who has a good chance of winning even though he is running in a main stream political party? So far Ron Paul has a better chance then any other libertarian candidate.

  • Bobby Ramsey

    I agree with Hyrum Berg (#8 and #10). I voted Libertarian in 2004 and 2000, and I’m sorry, but what earthly good did it do? I lean libertarian in all of my views, and here we have Paul actually making a serious, credible run for the Oval Office. If you capital-L Libertarians really care about getting rid of the Patriot Act, getting out of Iraq, not having a National ID Card, and restoring Habeas Corpus, you should vote for the candidate who best has a chance of winning. I think that is obviously Paul.

  • Bobby Ramsey

    Also, I disagree with Dr. Dreadful (#9) about the intent of a vote for a Libertarian. The intent for me is not to make all third parties more mainstream. Voting Libertarian is not some kind of tacit support for the Greens and Reformers. I voted Libertarian in 2000 and 2004 for the simple reason(s) that 1) the Republican and Democratic candidates were both terrible, and 2) I simply wanted, and still want, to return our American Empire to a Constitutionally bound Republic. I don’t think somehow “having more parties” is the way to do that. The ideal way is to change both of the major parties through infiltration and the spread of good ideas, as we saw Ron Paul doing in the GOP Debates at the Reagan Library. Ideally we should have people of libertarian leanings infiltrating BOTH parties, changing the terms of the debate.

  • Robert Lanning

    Ron Paul should run as a libertarian. A huge step for the party

  • NedJames

    Ron Paul is a nice guy, but I think Daniel Imperato would be better.

  • JC

    You know guys, I was very skeptical of Ron Paul and I still am. I just support him on principle. I cannot see him getting the republican party nomination though. I can see him actually getting elected IF he gets the nomination of both the Libertarian and Constitutional parties and a good helping of republican and democrat voters who are young and restless. Ron Paul, just raised an amazing amount of money (considering) and is going to get a lot more free publicity from it. Please tell me your thoughts.